Redfern Now–and just up the road privileged erks revel in their toxic culture

Having spent decades around Redfern and close by, I really looked forward to Redfern Now on ABC Thursday nights at 8.30.

Produced by Blackfella Films (Mabo, First Australians), the 6 x 1 hr drama series has been directed by Rachel Perkins (Mabo, Bran Nue Dae) and Catriona McKenzie (Satellite Boy), with Wayne Blair (The Sapphires, Wish You Were Here) and Leah Purcell (Somersault, Jindabyne, Lantana) both starring in and directing one of the stories.

Starring Deborah Mailman (Mabo, The Sapphires), Leah Purcell, Dean Daley-Jones (Toomelah, Mad Bastards), Miranda Tapsell (The Sapphires), Jimi Bani (Mabo, The Straits), Shari Sebbens (The Sapphires), Wayne Blair and Kelton Pell (Cloudstreet, The Circuit), REDFERN NOW has been produced by Blackfella Films in association with ABC TV, Screen Australia and Screen NSW.

With internationally acclaimed British writer Jimmy McGovern (The Street, Cracker, The Lakes) working closely with the scriptwriters as Story Producer, the series tells the powerful stories of six inner city households whose lives are changed by a seemingly insignificant incident.

When the series went into production, the ABC TV’s Head of Indigenous Department Sally Riley said, "REDFERN NOW is the first drama project to go into production which has been developed by the Indigenous Department. It lays the foundation for ambitious Indigenous work and is part of ABC TV’s priority to get more Indigenous work in front of prime-time audiences. REDFERN NOW has a wealth of inner-city stories that are rich and diverse. Coupled with the celebrated cast, it will make for compelling viewing."

For starters I saw so many familiar places. I took these in 2008:



And in 2009:

There was a launch of the series at The Block apparently. Had I been still in Sydney I would probably have been there, but not to worry – a spectator did film proceedings for YouTube.

Premiere of Redfern Now! at The Block, Redfern, October 31st 2012. Meet the cast. Hosted by Luke Carroll. Redfern teenager Aaron McGrath (Episode 4. Stand Up), then Miranda Tapsell (Episode 2. Joyride), Leah Purcell and Alec Doomadgee (Episode 1 Family). Redfern now! by ABC1 and Blackfella Films. (Raw footage from spectator – Me!)

Up the road from The Block is St John’s College, Tony Abbott’s old hangout. The privileged erks there have been screwing the joint and parading their tribalism and toxic culture for some time, it appears. Today The Sun Herald has made a feature of it.

When a degrading initiation ritual left a teenage girl clinging to life in hospital, the fallout was supposed to bring order and cultural change to Australia’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic college, St John’s.

Eight months on, nothing has changed. Police have been called to investigate widespread vandalism including smashed windows and doors, furniture broken or set on fire, and graffiti. Faeces are routinely found in common areas and bedrooms. Every second Friday, the student committee has decreed that all Johnsmen not speak to any female students – who are known as ”Jets”: the term is an acronym for ”just excuse the slag”.

Freshers are still being forced into initiation rituals, including the consumption of toxic drinks. And some senior students are showing a cavalier disregard for the fallout from the poisoned girl’s near-death, and have even printed T-shirts that celebrate the incident.

The "Year of Justice" T-shirt worn by St John’s students shows an eagle (the college symbol), which is blindfolded and vomiting. Photo: Amanda Parkinson

The college’s honorary dean and a member of the college’s executive have quit in disgust, with many former executives and existing students calling on Australia’s highest-ranked Catholic, Sydney Archbishop George Pell, to intervene and ”rescue” the 150-year-old institution from ”a crippling disease”….

I would have passed over the story as uninteresting to me personally and probably sensationalised – except a name struck me.

University of Sydney honorary professor Roslyn Arnold said she quit the St John’s executive this semester because she was ”ashamed to belong to such a group”.

”Anarchy has broken out and anarchy is not too strong a word,” Professor Arnold said.

”An external review of the governance of the college needs to be conducted urgently because the fellows are responsible for what happens on campus … I’ve been in universities for almost 40 years and, to be quite frank, I’ve never seen anything like this.

”In the external world, the incidents taking place could be considered criminal. I believe Cardinal Pell is the person who is ultimately called if things spiral out of control and become really tricky. In my opinion, we are well past that stage.”

I was a colleague of Ros in the Education Faculty at the University of Sydney – around the time Tony Abbott was a right-wing thug – and the fact she has said what she has compels me to take it seriously. What a wonderful set of products of private education, in the main, have been infesting this very beautiful building in Camperdown. You would find a much better class of person down the road in Redfern.

I find this telling too: “NOT one Coalition senator who responded to a survey by The Sun-Herald sends their child to a public school.” Now that doesn’t mean they will automatically vote against the interests of public education, but it is more than a little unrepresentative of the country as a whole, don’t you think?

Monday night

Good to see Ros Arnold on 7.30 tonight. She’s no wowser or puritan, but Blind Freddie can see that the behaviour that is an alleged “tradition” but in fact is merely a gross exhibition of bullying, vandalism  and substandard values at St John’s College is well past its use-by date – in fact should have led to mass expulsions, not slaps on the wrist, years ago. Put a stop to this spoiled brat barbarity right now and let it never happen again! On you, Ros, and all other decent people involved!

To be fair, note that both Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have condemned the behaviour reported in the Sun-Herald, but with more than a bit of an “if” I’m afraid.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, another St John’s alumnus, said reports of misbehaviour at the college were unacceptable.

"It’s unacceptable behaviour and I think these things need to be properly investigated and I understand they are being properly investigated," he told reporters in Sydney on Monday.

He said he now had no involvement with the college and denied ever being a mentor for students there.

He said there were initiation rituals when he attended the college, adding that the behaviour of many university students would probably not meet "general standards".

"Let’s not guild [sic] the lily* on this one, if there is inappropriate treatment of any person then it deserves proper investigation," he said.

"But I think if you opened the lid on colleges and campuses and frat houses and sorority houses right around the world, then by the general standard of behaviour it would be deemed to be pretty lewd and inappropriate."

Sorry, Joe; that’s not good enough. Just what would you condone at St John’s, and is the fact that people elsewhere behave like complete turds an excuse for St John’s? How much bullying is “enough”? How much hypocrisy can a Catholic institution find acceptable? When are “traditions” just excuses for assaults on individual rights and decent standards, and when should toxic traditions be outlawed?

See also She almost died. And they printed T-shirts to celebrate.

* That should be gild the lily – not Joe’s fault, of course, but rather an example of Herald-Sun proofreading. If something more than Spell Check proofed the copy, that is…